The Artists’ Quarter jazz club in the basement of the Hamm Building closed for good after its final New Year’s Eve party in 2013. Next week, after a lengthy, mostly silent span of 560 days, the space will reopen with a new name, under new ownership and bringing a new music mix.
Vieux Carré will be operated by the Dakota, which spent 18 years at Bandana Square in St. Paul before moving to its current location on Nicollet Mall in 2003. So it represents a kind of homecoming for co-owner Lowell Pickett. One way to translate the name is “old quarter,” a nod to the AQ.
“The room has a history,” Pickett said Monday by phone. “That’s important to us, and it’s important to St. Paul. What Kenny [Horst] and Billy [Peterson] created there over the years was wonderful. There’s a resonance.”
The door to the former AQ stayed closed, the room dark until New Year’s Eve 2014, when Vieux Carré began a sporadic series of pop-up events as “A Room with a Vieux.”
A New Year’s Eve party was followed by musical weekends in January 2015, a Valentine’s Weekend and Fat Tuesday party in February, the filming of an episode of TPT’s “The Lowertown Line” in March, and a live broadcast of an original radio drama with KBEM in April.
During the Twin Cities Jazz Festival in June, it was home to the Jon Weber Trio and Jazz Fest jams.
But you couldn’t decide to check it out on, say, a random Tuesday night. That changes next Tuesday, July 14, with the official grand opening featuring local jazz and R&B vocalist Katia Cardenas. After that, expect live music five nights a week, Tuesdays through Saturdays.
“The foundation of the music will be jazz,” Pickett said. “The intent is to create different musical feels on different nights of the week. Tuesdays and Fridays will be jazz, Wednesdays will be acoustic – which could be jazz-flavored, Americana, or singer-songwriter. Thursdays and Saturdays will be more of a mixture. The music might be jazz, Americana, Hot Club, soul or blues. Even some classical. Who knows?
“It would be cool to do something with the SPCO, one of our neighbors. In our dreams, it would be cool to do some of the things they do at Poisson Rouge.” (Le Poisson Rouge in New York is a multimedia arts cabaret with famously eclectic programming. It would be cool if that happened.)
We asked Pickett to describe his vision for Vieux Carré. “In simple terms, we want it to be a speakeasy vibe with great music played by area musicians. A creative, accessible, fun menu. A creative cocktail list. We want it to be a place that’s vibrant, where musicians in the Twin Cities can play and people in the Twin Cities can go without thinking it’s going to cost a lot of money.”
At least for now, most of the performers will be area musicians, people who make their homes here. “We want to keep the cover charge around $10,” Pickett said.
Is he concerned about competing with his other place across the river? The question exasperates him.
“In New York, does the Blue Note compete with the B.B. King Blues Club and the High Line?” he asked. (The Blue Note Entertainment Group owns all three.) “Rather than think in terms of competition and hand-wringing, let’s celebrate another place that has music. There can’t be too many of those. … We have three million people in the metro area.”
What’s new since the AQ? The sound system, for one. The chairs and the tables. The art on the walls; Vieux Carré got permission from The Historic New Orleans Collection to use photographs by Michael P. Smith, famous for his iconic jazz and blues images. The space is slightly larger; an office that once angled into the room has been removed.
There’s a small kitchen now, with a menu conceived by the Dakota’s executive chef, Derik Moran, and carried out by sous chef Louis Perez. Oysters Rockefeller for $15. Gumbo for $10. (“The gumbo recipe is from the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,” Pickett said.) A shrimp and lobster po’ boy. A muffuletta sandwich. “It’s definitely New Orleans-flavored.” Ditto for the drinks menu, which includes a Vieux Carré cocktail and a Sazerac.
The bar is the same, as is the piano, the former AQ’s Yamaha. “It’s a great piano,” Pickett said.
The website isn’t quite up and running (it should be by the 14th), so we asked for an early peek at the schedule. Some of the holes are still being filled, but here’s what we know. On Tuesdays and Wednesdays, there’s live music from 7 – 10 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays have two shows: dinner from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. and a late show from 8 to 11 p.m.
Tuesday, July 14: Katia Cardenas
Wednesday, July 15: New Shoes (Gary Raynor, Rich Dworsky and Peter Johnson of Guy’s All-Star Shoe band from “A Prairie Home Companion”)
Thursday, July 16: Chris Lomheim Trio
Friday, July 17: Zacc Harris and Chris Bates (5:30-7:30)
Tuesday, July 21: Jeremy Walker Trio
Wednesday, July 22: Steve Kenny’s Group 47
Thursday, July 23: Zack Lozier Three (5:30-7:30); Travis Anderson Trio (8-11)
Friday, July 24: Zacc Harris and Javier Santiago (5:30-7:30); Ginger Commodore and the Ginger Commodore Quartet (8-11)
Saturday, July 25: Daddy Squeeze Band: Dan Newton, Dean Magraw, Tom Lewis and Dehl Gallagher (8-11)
Wednesday, July 29: Nikki and the Ruemates
Thursday, July 30: Zack Lozier Three (5:30-7:30); Mississippi featuring Pete Whitman, Peter Schimke, Jeff Bailey and Kevin Washington (8-11)
Friday, July 31: Jeremy Walker Duo (5:30-7:30)
Heads up, Nancy Harms fans: The jazz vocalist from Clara City, now living in New York, will be at Vieux Carré on Saturday, Aug. 22 with Jeremy Siskind and Lucas Pino.
Wondering how to say Vieux Carré? Probably the best we can muster as doofy Minnesotans is “Voo kar-Ray,” with the accent on the Ray. Go here to hear a Frenchman say it, then weep softly.
The picks: Coming up in the great outdoors
Having just spent the whole Fourth of July weekend outdoors, we’re obsessed with events held under the sky.
Saturday, July 11: Alliance Française and the Dakota Present Bastille Day in St. Paul. Live music by the New Standards, Francine Roche Trio and Lo’Jo, artist marketplace, a Meritage crêpe stand, an appearance by Marie Antoinette and rides in a classic Citroën. On the W. 7th Place Mall. 2 p.m. – 8 p.m. Admission $10, kids under 12 free. After party at Vieux Carré.
Saturday, July 11: Drum Corps International Minnesota. Twenty DCI competitors from the U.S. and Canada will play, dance, march and strut their stuff at TCF Bank Stadium. Some groups have as many as 150 members ranging in age from 14-22. Intense choreography, precision, flags, batons, drums and blaring brass add up to a thrilling event. This year’s performing corps include the Govenaires from St. Peter, Minnesota Brass from St. Paul, and River City Rhythm from Anoka. Here’s last year’s highlights reel. Gates at 2 p.m., starts at 3:30 p.m. Tickets here ($35-$60; add $5 day of show).
Sunday, July 12: Barbette Presents the 13th Annual Bastille Day Block Party. With the Brass Messengers, Toki Wright & Big Cats, Karen Vieno Paurus & The Peacock Showgirls, MC Foxy Tann, and more, plus organic picnic foods and a local artist market. 3 p.m. – 10 p.m., rain or shine. FMI.
Saturday, July 18: Longfellow Roots, Rock, & Deep Blues Festival. $15 early-bird tix are still available for this all-day block party with 25 bands on 6 stages, food, art, performance art and more. Performers include Charlie Parr, Savage Aural Hotbed, Willie Murphy and the Angel Headed Hipsters, “Spider” John Koerner, Black Market Brass and Barbara Jean. The neighborhood celebration and benefit for Patrick’s Cabaret starts at noon. FMI and tickets.